(center) Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) speaks to reporters following the passing of a resolution in support of women's equity.
(center) Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) speaks to reporters following the approval of a resolution in support of women's equity. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

Recognizing that women have made strides in achieving parity in health, safety, and economic opportunity, the San Antonio City Council unanimously passed a resolution Thursday that acknowledges there’s still room for improvement.

The resolution sponsored by councilwomen Rebecca Viagran (D3), Shirley Gonzales (D5), and Ana Sandoval (D7) states that the City is committed to eliminating all forms of violence against women, to promoting the health and safety of women, and to promoting substantive economic, business, and leadership opportunities for women in San Antonio.

The women’s equity resolution is a formal way of saying, despite the advances already made, problems remain and the city can do better, Sandoval said. And approval of the resolution is the first step toward funding the strategies and initiatives that will solve those problems.

“Thanks to the leadership of the councilwomen and the mayor, we have made progress … but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” City Manager Sheryl Sculley said. “We need to continue this and make this an even higher priority than it has been in the past.”

The resolution addresses issues such as San Antonio’s increasing number of domestic violence cases, teen pregnancy rates that are higher than the national average, and a lack of pay equity, opportunity, and representation. On average, San Antonio women earn less money, own fewer businesses, and have less access to capital than their male counterparts.

“Today, I’m still fighting the same battles that my mother and grandmother fought,” said Monica Trevino-Ortega, a member of the Latino Leadership Institute of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, in asking the council to support the resolution and to push for equal pay for equal work. “I have two daughters, and I have made it my life’s work so that 30 years now they’re not fighting my battles.”

Gonzales said the resolution will help support “ambitious women” who come forward and help tackle the city’s biggest issues, providing them with the respect they deserve. She also noted that voters last week approved a city charter amendment that will limit the salary and tenure of future city managers, a vote seen as a reaction to Sculley’s $475,000 base salary.

“The votes that came up in regard to our city manager and her salary and her ambition and determination was a result of the fact that we as a community don’t like ambitious women,” Gonzales said. “And so, I urge all of you out there to please help us change that stigma, that we can be ambitious, fighters, strong, and polite, too, and not to mistake that politeness for a lack of ambition.”

Sandoval, whose District 7 has had four women serve on City Council since 1977, recognized women “who have paved the way” for her and others. Lila Cockrell became the country’s first female mayor of a major metropolitan city when she was elected here in 1975.

But because San Antonio has had only 28 women serve as either mayors and councilwomen and 75 men in those roles, Sandoval said, it’s time for change. “If women are limited, I feel our whole community is limited,” she said.

Viagran said the resolution is about ending institutional racism and sexism in the city, a campaign promise she made in 2017.

“One of the things we are working toward as well is dismantling a patrón mentality,” Viagran said. “Not to replace it with a different mentality but to create an alliance between men and women who have to work together to move forward this great city. And we are taking a step here, and these things are just a step because we still have to work with you all toward on strategies on how we implement this.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the resolution is an affirmation of a community’s values that are placed into the historical record, and nothing more than a record, “unless we act upon it.”

Viagran told reporters after the Council session: “We’re not just going to do a resolution. We’re also going to put strategies in place to move the needle on these issues, including women representation on our boards and commissions.”

Of San Antonio’s 1.5 million residents, 51 percent are women, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. But a City study last month that looked at women and minority participation in municipal government found that women make up only 39 percent of the current membership of the City’s boards and commissions. As a result, the City developed an action plan to increase diversity on boards and commissions.

Other strategies to improve economic opportunity for women come in the form of City programs like the Small Business Economic Development Advocacy (SBEDA) program, Launch SA, and the employment agency Project Quest. Through SBEDA, City contract dollars paid to local women-owned businesses have increased from 3 percent in 2011 to 17 percent in 2017.

The city manager has also implemented programs to increase the number of women executives at City Hall, boosting representation from 26 percent female in 2005 to 43 percent today.

Though the resolution is not meant to dictate how many women will be appointed to boards, elevated to leadership roles, or earn funding for small businesses, the councilwomen and mayor said it will focus more attention on eliminating barriers that keep women from achieving their goals.

“This council has made equity a foundational principle for everything we do,” Nirenberg said. “I’m gratified by the work of my colleagues in bringing forward this resolution.”

Women’s health is another major focus of the resolution, and Gonzales hopes it results in a redirection of funds toward agencies that are working on the issues and to Bexar County and other partnering entities.

“The idea is we prioritize women’s issues and funding to make sure these outcomes are realized – reduction in child abuse, reduction in infant mortality,” Gonzales said. “That is going to require redirection of some of our funding. The city is still falling drastically behind in some of these things and, really, to be the great city that we all desire to be, we’ve got to focus our attention on these issues.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.